Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Blog 101

Panel shows aren't always my thing (especially if they involve Jimmy Carr) but you can't go wrong with Frank Skinner. Consequently, I'm a big fan of Room 101, currently airing on BBC1 on Friday nights. So much so, that I've been thinking about what topic I might choose in the unlikely event I ever find myself invited to take part in an episode.

As someone hurtling at high speed towards the Victor Meldrew phase of life, I find there are no shortage of things to irritate me on a daily basis. However there is one thing that is currently irking me more than everything else and so here we go.

My topic is...Downsizing

I don't mean making people redundant. Although undoubtedly an unpleasant experience for many, in my case it was a completely liberating one. No, I'm talking about the disgraceful habit of manufacturers of sneakily reducing the sizes of their food products and hoping we won't notice.

We've got 10 Jaffa cakes in a pack instead of 12. Multipack Crisps and snacks that were once 25g now at 18g with "only 88 calories per bag" proudly displayed on the front. Well that's not going to solve Britain's obesity crisis if everyone now has to eat two bags because one isn't enough.

Then there are chocolate bars are laughably small. Kit-Kat Chunky? Going by the ones in the last 4 pack I bought that title is a complete misnomer. Kit-Kat Dinky would be a more appropriate name.

Honey, I shrunk the pineapple!

Tropicana litre bottles are now 850ml, Toblerone have put bigger gaps between the mountains and the next time you find yourself on the bog with not enough paper left to wipe your arse properly you can blame Andrex. You no longer get 240 sheets per roll - it's now 221.

You could hop between peaks before.
Now some sort of mountaineering equipment is probably in order.

As for an old favourite of mine, Peperami, well they've been well and truly hammered. At one time the length of a standard Peperami would have measured up favourably alongside the dong of your average porn star. As for the current pathetic offering, well all I can say is they even make me feel well-endowed.

What annoys me is the surreptitious nature these manufacturers go about this. In the old days they just used to put the price up - fair enough, it was annoying but inflation is a fact of life we are all accustomed to. Prices go up - we live with it. So man up grow a pair and put the prices up. Don't try and treat us like mugs, shrinking your products and hoping we won't notice - we do!

This needs nipping in the bud now before everyone starts doing it. Before long it'll be three-quarters of a pint in the pub, pizzas the size of CD's and movies at the cinema that only last 55 minutes, with a scaled down box of popcorn to fit the running time. Is that what we want? Because that's what'll happen...

So Frank, please put downsizing (or shrinkflation as it has been dubbed by the media) into Room 101.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Life in a new town

Here I am in Evesham. Yes, I've finally taken the plunge and left Bicester after 26 years.

I've been here just a week and have so much to talk about, I hardly know where to start.

Let's talk about the town first. What a lovely place it has proven to be! First of all there is the river. It runs in a horseshoe shape through the town and you can walk all the way alongside it, as I have done so three times during the first week. The day after we arrived, we walked all the way along on what was a beautiful late summer's evening.

I was reminded more than a little of walking along the river in Oxford, from the Head Of The River pub, with rowers everywhere. The path alongside the river is sandy and lined with mature trees, similar to the main path through Christchurch Meadows. There are various play parks, tennis courts, a cricket pitch and all sorts of other things along the way. Each time I have been along there it has been a hive of activity, with people everywhere enjoying themselves. It's no surprise, experiencing this, that Wychavon (this corner of Worcestershire) was named the second happiest place to live in the UK recently (after the Orkney Islands).

And so in to the town. The main street reminds me a little of Sheep Street in Bicester before it was pedestrianised. It's lively and full of local businesses. There is also a pedestrianised street leading off and all the high street stores are here - including those that no longer exist in Bicester town centre, such as Clarks and Edinburgh Woollen Mills. The main square, surrounded by ancient Tudor buildings, is full of cafes where you can sit outside and enjoy a coffee.

Don't get me wrong - I am not attempting to score points against Bicester here - I'm merely comparing the two and liking what I see.

Shoppers are spoiled here. There are edge of town shopping centres that contain big retailer such as M&S, Next, Currys/ PC World and many more. There is also a Frankie & Benny's and a McDonalds within walking distance of my house. The choice of shops is just amazing - and all of this in a town that has a population only around two-thirds that of Bicester.

What it doesn't have is anything like Bicester Village and I hope it never will.

Speaking of things being two-thirds the size of Bicester, go on to Rightmove and have a look at the house prices. It really is quite unbelievable. I'm sitting here in a 4/5 bedroom house that has room to swing several cats, the price of which you might just about get a two bed for in Bicester. Why? Well it's not because we're in some scummy area, that's for sure. I think it's purely down to proximity to London. We're out of the commuter belt here which makes a huge difference. The number of houses up for private rent here is tiny compared to Bicester. That's because the locals can actually afford to buy them. Good, solid, well-built houses, not overpriced boxes chucked up on new estates for landlords to buy up as an investment which they then let out for astronomic sums. Sorry if I sound like I have a bee in my bonnet about this, but I don't think that helps a community at all.

What else? The pubs are fantastic - proper traditional places. We found one called Ye Olde Horse and had a couple of pints (also at a lower percentage) and some food there. It was a family run, traditional pub and the food was amazing. Claire had a home made burger and I had a steak - both of which were among the best we've ever had. The landlady cooked them and came out to chat to us too, as did many of the locals.

Since then we've explored further, enjoying this happy, prosperous little town where it seems there is always something going on. There are flowers everywhere (Britain in Bloom winners), and all sorts of events. The town even has it's own tourist office where we were welcomed as new residents and given all sorts of information about the many festivals and celebrations that go on around this town and the local area all year long. The locals here are proud of their town and it shows.

I honestly did wonder if I would ever manage to make the break from Bicester. It was a brave move to leave, but I've never shied away from these sort of decisions as you know. I may have been here only a week but already I believe this move is one of the best decisions I've ever made. It's just 40 miles away but it's another world.

But don't just take my word for it - come over for a visit! Just don't look in any estate agent's windows, you might be tempted to stay! I wouldn't mind if you did. The one thing that would make this town complete would be if I could uproot all my Bicester friends and plant you all back down here.

Down by the river in Evesham